We always hear from developers that they've upped the scale, scope and all-round epic nature of their game for the sequel. So and so game has twice as many levels, another has bigger bosses, another includes some new moves. Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is a game that has more variety than you could ever imagine, a storyline that spans the globe, enemies so diverse you expect something new around every corner, combat so brutal you'll be wincing until the closing credits and a style that is effortlessly cool. Ninja Gaiden 2 was more bad ass than its predecessor in every conceivable way, and this PS3 exclusive refresh is even better... for the most part.
If you haven't been following the Ninja Gaiden series over the past few years you probably aren't prepared for how difficult Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 is, even if it's definitely easier than the 360 original. It's still on a completely different level to current genre favourite God of War. To put Ninja Gaiden 2 into perspective, I was able to beat God of War and its sequel fairly comfortably on the default difficulty - on the easiest difficulty Ninja Gaiden 2 almost made me gnaw my fingers off at certain points. Newcomers will definitely appreciate Sigma 2's more forgiving gameplay, but unless you're 100 per cent focused don't expect to make it very far.
Although lead character Ryu Hayabusa gains quite a selection of weaponry as you move through the game, it's his block and dodge moves that are key to survival. You might be able to button mash your way through one or two enemies, but soon enough you'll be using health elixirs like no tomorrow and seeing the Game Over screen enough to have it burnt onto your retinas. Learn to use your block and when to counter attack and you'll be on your way.
Joining your melee weapons are a number of projectiles, ranging from your default shuriken to a gatling gun-style spear gun for use underwater. Most of these have a limited supply of ammo, with more available from fallen warriors you find on your adventure and at shops scattered around each level. Handily, Ryu automatically targets enemies when using a projectile weapon, although weapons like the bow and gun can be manually aimed if you want to hit a certain location on an enemy. One of the keys to the game is working out which weapons work best against each enemy type, so thankfully the d-pad offers a quick weapon-change, eliminating the need to go into the pause menu.
Your third means of attack comes from magic, or Ninpo as it's called in the game. Fire-filled icons below your health bar show how many Ninpo strikes you have at your disposal. Holding down Triangle and Circle initiates a monster slaying Ninpo attack and you have a few seconds to aim using the left analogue stick. As with your weapons, these powers can be upgraded, allowing you to dish out more damage. To begin with you're limited to a fire attack, but soon enough this will be joined by wind and fire bird assaults. Unless you're a true expert these special magic abilities will be essential during boss battles, so it's wise to stock up on replenishing items.
Brand new to Sigma 2 are three extra playable female characters. Rachel from Ninja Gaiden, Ayane from Dead or Alive and Momiji from DS game Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword each offer a different gameplay experience during their brand new levels. Rachel is still as slow as she was in the original Sigma title on PS3, so is just as likely to divide opinion amongst fans, but the other two should go down quite well as their combat styles are fast and flowing like Ryu's. They each have brand new weapons to play with, too.
Enemies in Ninja Gaiden 2 come thick and fast and in large groups. You'll face warriors, giant lizard monsters, dogs, frenzied bats, gargoyles, metallic scorpion-like spinning nasties, werewolves, flying piranhas and more - in fact, that lot are just from the game's opening third. Your health bar in Ninja Gaiden 2 uses a replenishment system, meaning you don't need to use elixirs to get your energy back. When you beat a wave of enemies your health is re-filled, but any sustained damage (shown by red in your bar) is permanent unless you use a health elixir or blue essence. Fallen enemies release essences of various colours, with yellows acting as the in-game currency used to purchase new items and upgrade weapons, Reds replenish your magic, and blues heal semi-permanent damage.